Farm organization lobbyists expect Congress to focus on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as they take up a new farm bill, adding that agreement on the program, which includes food stamps, is critical to passing the legislation.
Barbara Patterson, government relations director of the National Farmers Union, expects “a lot of attacks” on SNAP.
“The shape those take is a little bit unclear at this point,” she said. “We definitely anticipate there will be some efforts to cut funding.”
Patterson said tension exists between the House Agriculture Committee, which wants to pass a farm bill, and the House leadership, which is looking at broader entitlement reform.
Speaker Paul Ryan and other lawmakers have talked about changing SNAP since the last farm bill debate, said Dale Moore, executive director for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“I believe there’s going to be a lot of attention paid to the nutrition title,” which includes SNAP, Moore said. “I don’t see it as being any more at risk or threatened than it has been in any previous farm bill.”
Having a Republican president and Republican-controlled House and Senate makes SNAP cuts more likely, Patterson said.
Without SNAP intact, it would be tough for the farm bill to pass in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to get the legislation to the floor, Moore said. With the swearing in of Doug Jones, D-Ala., this month, Republicans will have a 51-seat majority in the 100-seat Senate.
“We’re confident both House and Senate agriculture leaders are going to find the appropriate path to handle concerns some may have,” Moore said.
When urban lawmakers ask why they should care about a farm bill, they are reminded that the nutrition program benefits urban families and individuals, Moore said.
House and Senate agriculture committee leaders recognize the sensitivity of the issue in previous farm bill negotiations, Moore said. They’re keeping it in mind, he said, “to make sure it doesn’t become the wrench in the gearset while they’re trying to get the entire farm bill put together.”
The farm bill represents support programs for farmers, including crop insurance, conservation programs and rural development.
Patterson said agriculture needs to support the farm bill as a whole.
“If farmers don’t stand up for SNAP, it makes it much more challenging for those that care about SNAP to stand up for farm programs,” Patterson said.
Moore said he’s optimistic discussions will begin early this year. The current bill expires at the end of September.
Patterson said farm bill discussions last time proved SNAP is necessary.
“You need a support program for farmers when times get tough and you need one for consumers when times get tough,” she said. “If SNAP cuts are huge and not acceptable to at least a small portion of Democrats on the Senate side, then you won’t see a farm bill. You need to be able to bring people to the table.”